Mozilla: A study in organizational openness


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My theme this week is organizational openness and transparency and today I'd like to highlight a fantastic example of an organization that has built a culture with openness at its core: Mozilla.

Most of you probably know Mozilla as the organization famous for its open source Firefox web browser. But what you may not know is that open source is more than just a technology decision for Mozilla; the open source way is deeply ingrained in every aspect of its culture.

Last week, Mozilla Technology Evangelist Paul Rouget wrote a post on his blog entitled Mozilla Openness Facts. In it, he attempts to capture as many examples of openness in action at Mozilla as he can.

Here are just a few of the examples Paul shares (read his post if you want to see the rest):

1. An open door office policy: open source contributors are welcome to drop by Mozilla offices and hang out. In fact, Paul notes that he first met current Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs (before he joined Mozilla) when Gary visited the Paris office where Paul works.

2. Transparent financials: Sure, many companies publish their financial results publicly... because they are public companies. Mozilla isn't, but still does.

3. Open meetings: No strategy behind closed doors here. Not only are many of Mozilla's meetings open to the public, they often post the phone numbers (and even video conference URLs) on their wiki.

4. Public product roadmap: Want to know Mozilla's future technology direction? No need to hire a private investigator, you can find the product roadmap on the wiki too.

Not all of these examples are unique to Mozilla and some of them are simply a part of being a responsible member of the open source movement. But what is unique is that someone took the time to catalog the openness examples.

It's a fantastic idea, and perhaps something that every company that bills itself as open should attempt to do in a public forum.

I reached out to Paul to ask him a few questions about openness and what motivated him to compile the list of examples. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

First, I asked him about some of the challenges that come with openness and transparency. One of the points he made that resonated most with me is that "being open is not a passive task." It isn't enough just to make information open—you must be active about helping people find it.

"Open meetings are meetings where anybody can come. But you have to promote these meetings. Make sure the contributors hear about them. Same for mailing lists and IRC channels, open channels, but you need to find them... Just keeping the doors open is not enough," says Paul.

Paul also pointed out another crucial lesson of organizational openness, that being open doesn't mean everyone has the right to vote on everything.

"Being transparent and open doesn't mean we are a democracy. We listen to everybody, but we believe that the most skilled people should make the most important decisions. And you don't have to be an employee to be a decision-maker."

Finally, I asked him why he took the approach of "showing vs. telling" in writing the post (which I loved, very esse quam videri). Here was his response.

"I was trying to define openness. I failed. Much easier to show. Everybody is talking about how transparent and open they are. Even big and closed companies. I say b$%^&*!t, they are not. They just use openness as a new buzz word and a new marketing thing. If you are open, show me your meeting notes, show me your source code, let me be part of your team conference calls, let me look at your metrics, and let me work with you.

I wanted to show that being open is much more than just being open source."

Well shoot, that sounds a lot like what we are trying to show with opensource.com:)

Nicely done, Paul. Nicely done, Mozilla.

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